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LightVerbs:AnEmpiricalAttempttoDefinetheNotion
Jussi Niemi, Juha Mulli, Marja Nenonen, Sinikka Niemi, Alexandre
Nikolaev and Esa Penttilä
Department of Foreign Languages and Translation Studies
University of Eastern Finland at Joensuu
Intuitively, some (morpho-)lexical items are more multifunctional and general in their semantic
domain than the prototypical representatives of the same syntactic/lexical category. Among verbs,
the notion of the light (or empty) verb has attracted linguists’ attention at least since Jespersen’s
monumental series of volumes on the structure of English (Jespersen 1909-1949). In our fivelanguage study Cross-linguistic Studies of Phrasal Idioms we have systematically collected large
corpora of verb phrase idioms of German, English, Swedish, Russian and Finnish and have analyzed
their overall lexical composition (Niemi et al., 2010) and the idiomaticity of the noun complement
(Niemi et al. 2013). The total number of the body-part idioms in our corpora is about 5,300 (German:
ca. 1,300, English: ca. 550, Swedish: ca. 1,800, Russian: ca. 800, Finnish: ca. 830).
Since the notional attempts at defining the “light verb” have been shown to be difficult, if not
impossible (Pottelberge 2000), we aim at explicating the category using an empirical method, i.e., by
analyzing which verbs in language X (German, English, Swedish, Russian or Finnish) tend to appear in
VP idioms with “diluted meaning” of their own (if any).
References
Jespersen, Otto (1909-1949). A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles. London: Allen.
Niemi, J., J. Mulli, M. Nenonen, S. Niemi, A. Nikolaev and E. Penttilä (2010). Body-part Idioms across
Languages. In S. Ptashnyk, E. Hallsteinsdóttir & N. Bubenhofer (eds.), Corpora, Web and Databases.
Schneider Verlag Hohengeren. Pp. 67-76.
- - - (2013). Idiomatic proclivity and literality of meaning in body-part nouns: Corpus studies of English,
German, Swedish, Russian and Finnish. Folia Linguistica 47, 1.
Pottelberge, J. Van (2000). Light verb constructions. Logos and Language 1: 17-33.